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There was a town called Aquae Sulis. It was lovely, a tourist resort nigh the sea. Warded by the beneficent arms of a Celtic goddess, people came from all over to take its healing waters. They dipped themselves as nude as babes in the spring. The bathers relaxed, watched over by the goddess, her statue’s golden mien of misericordia. It was a good place, a blessed town. The warm water had flowed for millennia. People would close their eyes as they floated in the green pools, wrapped around by marble colonnades which felt so strong and sure. They would close their eyes and float, and in the floating perhaps become their best humanity. They floated; they returned; they dreamed.
One day the soldiers pulled out of the area, never to return. That little resort town became a hell. The visage of the goddess who blessed the waters was cast down. Apocalyptic fanatics chopped off her sad-eyed head and buried her beaneath rubble. Warlords popped up like weeds, as they do - gangland narcissists full of selfish grievance, greed, and lust - with bloodthirsty brigands at their back. The warlords ravaged the the little resort town, which sat nigh the shore at a strategically critical pass of country.
A bare century or three later, the land had been purged of the people who made Aquae Sulis until even their memory was lost. A new nation had invaded and forged itself in that country. Some sensitive soul gaped at the wreckage of Aquae Sulis and composed a poem. Perhaps they sang it, floating alone in a pool of hot green water, breath misting up into a metal sky, as the brambles which curled about the shattered marble loggias slept in winter. It reads in part:
Wrætlic is þes wealstan, wyrde gebræcon; burgstede burston, brosnað enta geweorc. Hrofas sind gehrorene, hreorge torras, hrungeat berofen, hrim on lime, scearde scurbeorge scorene, gedrorene, ældo undereotone. Eorðgrap hafað waldend wyrhtan forweorone, geleorene, heardgripe hrusan, oþ hund cnea werþeoda gewitan. (This masonry is wondrous; Destiny broke it courtyard pavements were smashed; the work of giants is decaying. Roofs are fallen, ruinous towers, the frosty gate with frost on cement is ravaged, chipped roofs are torn, fallen, undermined by old age. The grasp of the earth possesses the mighty builders, perished and fallen, the hard grasp of earth, until a hundred generations of people have departed.)
One finding from archaeology of Aquae Sulis is especially worth noting. Perhaps it is a small thing, a trifle, in the great streams of history. But it says much in that ineffable, impressionistic way by which bodies can speak of trauma.
In the stratum of the last days of that delightful town there was an oven. The oven had made bread for innumerable pilgrims and tourists, once. Imagine the delightful smells of warm loaves and honey. Decade by decade that oven had pleased gods and men with gentle succour.
But in those last days, the bakery went cold. And some mad someone put the severed head of a little girl in that oven.
I never forget that precious girl, her head chopped off in a manic rage, left to rot in an oven. I pray for her. I pray for us. And I wonder.
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